Birds Of A Feather

By and for Bird-People

July 8, 2012
by Meirya
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The Alien Avian

The Alien Avian

Humans are social creatures, pack animals by nature; apex predators; and of course, mammals. It makes sense, then, that other apex predators, other mammals, and social apex predators in particular would translate more cleanly into human bodies, and be more recognizable. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the disproportionate number of wolves in the therian community, and of big cats.

In comparison, birds are alien creatures: of the sky and sometimes the ocean, with only rare species residing primarily on land (ostriches, emus, cassowaries, kiwi). They occupy a different sphere entirely, treetops and cliffsides and wind. They are hollow-boned, feathered, and beaked; they are egg-layers and nest-keepers.

Many people have a good grasp of body language and cues when it comes to mammals. Some of this is due to early and frequent exposure to cats and dogs, and some of it might be simply that the cues are similar to human ones: a mobile face, lips curling in a snarl for canines and humans both, eyes widening or narrowing, a hunched slinking posture when threatened or a big forward posture when threatening, and so on and so forth. We can read “feline”, we can read “canine”, and even “equine” or “bovine” are comprehensible with little previous exposure. The nuances might take study to learn, but beyond that, humans speak the same basic language as most other mammals.

Birds speak a different language. It might be motivated by the same things (fight/flight, fear/aggression, hunger, territory), but it doesn’t look the same. A bird’s expression doesn’t show in a mobility of facial features, but rather in the subtle pinning of pupils, in a gaping or clacking beak, fluffing of feathers (and there’s a difference between contented fluffing and a threat display) or slicking back of feathers, head-bobbing, head-weaving, preening, plucking…

Social birds are easier to relate to, and easier to study; they’re more motivated to communicate. It’s far simpler to study a parrot (and the psychology of african grays, for instance, seems similar to that of humans), which is a highly social flock bird, than to study a raven, which is social on a much smaller scope. Their intelligence may be similar, but it’s trickier to demonstrate the intelligence of ravens than it is for parrots, perhaps in part because so many of our measurements of intelligence (and methods of taking measurements) are based on intensely social, mammalian humanity.

Translate a bird into a human, and what do you get?

People often have a hard time reading my tells. It takes conscious effort and it’s taken a lot of self-training to make facial expressions, to display feelings and affect through standard facial (and vocal) cues. When I am not feeling well, I often don’t make the attempt at facial expressions, usually because I’m more focused on my mental state than on communication of that state – and in some respects, I think I fall into the behavior Tsu described: “an injured bird hides.”

When I am anxious or agitated, it shows in my physicality: shifting my weight from foot to foot, clenching and unclenching my feet repeatedly. Fidgeting with my scalp, short-shorn hair like pinfeathers and down, stress-preening, feather-picking. My eyes go wide and staring when there’s sensory overload, too much stimulation for hyperalert hawk-mind; my head swivels to look at every sudden motion. My breath rate increases, going rapid and shallow under intense stress; this is a normal physiological reaction for anyone’s anxiety, but it’s not joined by an anxious expression, it doesn’t display on my face. My face lacks emotional expression to the point where I have had coworkers, managers, and casual friends walk up to me when I am in the midst of a full panic, and they choose that moment in which to comment on how calm and laid back and mellow I always seem to be.

It’s not just stress and anxiety that manifest primarily in body language, either. Interest expresses as a sharpened intensity, hawk-stare, turning the entirety of my attention to a single point. Often my mind is split several ways, but when something trulycatches my attention, it commands all of it, all of my focus. I lean forward, my gaze is as still as my face; I fidget less. When fully engaged, fascinated, I become less animated, more still, more intent. I seem more serious when I’m very interested in something, razor-edged. Happiness is a softened gaze and fluffed phantom feathers; relaxed contentment means slower movement, increased comfort with physical contact, swaying side to side, limbs loose.

It’s different socially, too. This is more of a hawk thing than a general bird thing, because plenty of birds are highly social, flock creatures: parrots and geese and crows, to name a few examples, though I’m sure their form of socialization looks very different from mammalian pack dynamics (and I would love to hear the social perspective from a flock bird person at some point). Rough-legged hawk is a solitary bird, or pair-bonded at most, apart from sometimes roosting communally in winter territory and forming small flocks in migration. I understand group dynamics and hierarchy thanks to observation, study, and social psychology classes; it’s not an ingrained knowledge or an instinctive understanding. Thanks to being human as well as hawk, I am a social creature, and I need social contact and meaningful relationships in my life. However, socializing with people who are intensely hierchical can be strange and stressful for me, and I react poorly to attempts at shoehorning me into a hierarchy in a group setting. (I deal with it better in a work environment, where I’ve learned to accept it and can see the efficiency around it; but in social, casual, or friend groups, I see no point to it and deeply dislike formations of hierarchy.)

I have no patience for dominance displays in general. Fortunately, I do not trip the dominance/hierarchy-aware instincts of most of my intensely hierchical friends (wolf-people and even some cat-folk). That’s where I prefer to be, in a group setting: non-hierarchical, outside a hierarchy if one exists within the group, seen neither as a threat to dominance nor someone to be dominant over. It sometimes means I fit oddly in a group setting, or don’t mesh with the larger social fabric of a group; a part and apart at the same time. It can make finding meaningful, nourishing community difficult. Most of the time, though, I don’t mind.

A bird is not a mammal, and it’s hard to describe what it’s like as a bird in human skin when all our language is mammalian, when my body is heavy-boned and featherless, soft-faced, toothed instead of beaked. It’s like trying to translate a complex concept from German or Japanese when there’s no word for it in English: it takes paragraphs and pages to convey even half of it, and so much is lost in the translation even then. Bird is alien and other – closer, maybe, than reptiles with their cold blood and scaled thoughts; closer, perhaps, than the wet world of fish, or the colony-existence of bees and ants. Yet it’s alien in comparison to cats and foxes, wolves and horses, a psychological uncanny valley of almost but not quite comprehensible.

July 3, 2012
by Akhila
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Flying Lions and Scavenging Vultures

This is a summary of Nick Greaves’ account of the Hottentot tale “When Lion Could Fly (and Why Vulture Scavenges)”. You can read the full version and more stories in his nicely illustrated book “When Lion Could Fly – and other tales from Africa”. Each tale comes with a Facts page about the animals involved, and from the info shared this one may refer to the White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), a close parent to the European Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus).

White-backed Vulture

By Mark Robinson from Williton, UK (Not a Common Visitor to Somerset), via Wikimedia Commons.

This tale explains how in the beginning Lion had the gift of flight, which he had acquired through magical means. He kept his bundle of magical treasures hidden in a great graveyard made of the bones of his kills. He used his reputation as a fearsome hunter to enslave the Vultures so they guard the place against intruders, because he feared that animals would scatter the bones and discover his secret.

One day though, the Bullfrog rebelled against the Lion’s authority and leaped into the boneyard.

The Vultures were beside themselves with fear. What would Lion do to them when he saw what was left of his bone display? As they looked dismally over the wreckage, they spotted Lion’s magic bundle. The Vultures opened it and ate up all the contents. To their immense relief, they now had the power of flight. To escape from Lion’s wrath, they soared up into the heavens.

Nick Greaves – When Lion Could Fly

When Lion realized he could no longer fly to swoop down on his preys, he got back to his lair full of rage, and saw the Vultures circling above. They told him of Bullfrog’s actions, and as they wouldn’t come down, Lion decided unleash his wrath upon Bullfrog instead. He did not succeed in catching him though, as he leapt out of reach whenever Lion would get close. Lion eventually gave up his chase, and have been hunting his meal like other earthbound animals ever since.

But Vulture still fears Lion, and only comes to Earth to scavenge carrion when Lion has had his fill.

Nick Greaves – When Lion Could Fly

Other tales from this book include “Why Guinea Fowl Calls at Dawn (and Why Flies Buzz)”, “Honeyguide’s Revenge”, and “The Birds’ Great Race”.

June 13, 2012
by Akhila
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The Lamina

[Lamina, pl. laminak; this is a summary of the French Wikipedia article about the laminak, also spelled lamiak.]

In Basque mythology, a lamina is a humanoid nature spirit or genius; as a group, they are the laminak. Laminak are related to faeries and are described either as lutins, elves, gnomes, or trolls. They are mostly nocturnal creatures and live underground or near springs and streams.

Their appearance is uncertain. Females tend to be human-sized and have the webbed feet of a duck (sometimes chicken or even goat feet). In coastal lands, they may be represented as sirens. Their skin is sometimes described as copper in colour. Males are considered more gnome-like or dwarf-like with a very hairy body and face. In some legends, laminak are something in-between the two descriptions: small men with webbed feet, small women similar to other european fairies, etc.

It is said that laminak live underground and only come out at night because they do not like sunlight. They live in mountains and grottos, and are also to be found under bridges or near streams and springs, especially if thoses are directly connected to caves. They are untiring and talented workers, able to build whole houses, churches or briges between dusk and dawn. Women are excellent spinners with a spindle and distaff; some tales recount of their nocturnal going to the river for laundry.

The Laminak live in family households. They are frequently associated to gold and the garding of treasures. Females are described as combing their long hair with a golden comb near a spring or in front of their house. Their hair and clothes might also be golden. Two common themes in folklore are the gift of gold presents by the laminak, as well as the robbery of a golden comb.

They are ambivalent towards humans, sometimes being very generous (offering shelter, gifts) and other times extremely malicious (the rape of young women), with everything in between (vengeful beings, proposing services or pacts, etc). Some legends tell about the capture of a lamina maiden or the reverse, the laminak keeping a young human woman in their grotto. They are sometimes associated with sorginak (sg. sorgin, a wizard or witch who often assists the goddess Mari in her fighting against falsehood and lies). Like Mari, they punish liars and play tricks on them.

There also is a mutually beneficial relation between humans and laminak as the latter need human midwife assistance in childbirth as well as help in passing over at their death. They are generous to those who leave little offerings of food to them, providing with abundant harvest or doing little works.

Some tales speak of the impossible love between a shepherd and a lamina. In one of them, a young man fall in love with a young woman who turns out to be a lamina, which he realized only when he saw her geese feet. It is said that he died from his sorrow and that the lamina kept watch over his body, providing a shroud to cover him and accompanying the mourners (but did not enter the church).

Laminak are closely related to the pyrenean hadas or fadas (fairies) and their spouse the dragòts, sharing the webbed feet and common themes like impossible marriages and nocturnal laundry.

June 6, 2012
by Akhila
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The Roc

This is one tale from Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (which has become a public-domain text). The tales were put to paper by Pu Songling during the Qing Dynasty, and this is a translation by Herbert A. Giles. The roc (or rukh) is a legendary giant bird often related to the phoenix and simurgh; you can read more on the subject in this Wikipedia article.

Two herons built their nests under one of the ornaments on the roof of a temple at Tientsin. The accumulated dust of years in the shrine below concealed a huge serpent, having the diameter of a washing-basin; and whenever the heron’s young were ready to fly, the reptile proceeded to the nest and swallowed every one of them, to the great distress of the bereaved parents. This too place three years consecutively, and people thought the birds would build there no more.

However, the following year they came again; and when the time was drawing nigh for their young ones to take wing, away they flew, and remained absent for nearly three days. On their return, they went straight to the nest, and began amidst much noisy chattering to feed their young ones as usual.

Just then the serpent crawled up to reach his prey; and as he was nearing the nest the parent-birds flew out and screamed loudly in mid-air. Immediately, there was heard a mighty flapping of wings, and darkness came over the face of the earth, which the astonished spectators now perceived to be caused by a huge bird obscuring the light of the sun.

Down it swooped with the speed of wind or falling rain, and, striking the serpent with its talons, tore its head off at a blow, bringing down at the same time several feet of the masonry of the temple. Then it flew away, the herons accompanying it as though escorting a guest.

The nest too had come down, and of the two young birds one was killed by the fall; the other was taken by the priests and put in a bell tower, whither the old birds returned to feed it until thoroughly fledged, when it spread its wings and was gone.

The Roc“, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, Vol. II, 1880.

 

Eric Pape, Rukh carries off its prey (1923)

The Book of Knowledge, The Grolier Society (1911)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footnote:

This story is inserted chiefly in illustration of the fact that all countries have a record of some enormous bird such as the roc of the “Arabian Nights”.

June 6, 2012
by Akhila
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The Man Who Turned Into a Raven

This is a rough translation of Boria Sax‘ version of The Man Who Was Changed Into a Crow, from the Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling. I came upon this version in the French edition of his 2003 book Crows, and I wanted to share the story here for other corvid folks (I do not possess the English book, which is certainly more faithful to Sax’s original account).

This only is a small excerpt, the whole Crows book is an interesting and enjoyable read that I’d recommend to any corvid-lover.

Yü Jung, a young man from a modest family, had failed his examination. Desperate, he had stopped by the Wu Wang temple to pray  the god – a deity of birds.

As he was resting, a servant came to him and led him to Wu Wang himself who asked that a black robe was brought to the young man; as soon as he had changed clothes, he turned into a raven (or, in some versions of the story, a crow).

Later on he married a female raven named Chu-Ch’ing. One day, as he was with other ravens catching crumbs thrown by sailors (a propitiating custom), Yü Jung did not follow his wife’s advice on not getting too close to humans, and he was shot with crossbow.

He suddenly found himself back in the temple, wounded and laying on his side in human form. As he recovered his senses, he swore to himself that he would never forget his life as a raven with Chu-Ch’ing.

Often he came back to the temple, praying Wu Wang and offering food for the birds. Later on, when Yü Jung got his exams, he sacrificed a sheep in homage to ravens, and Chu-Ch’ing – who had become a river spirit – came to him.

She handed his black robe to him and said: “If you want to visit me, all you have to do is putting on the robe and fly to me”. And that is how Yü Jung lived two parallel lives, one as a man and one as a raven.

I find this tale fascinating in that it sounds like a reverse swan maiden story: the protagonist starts as a human but becomes Other, this bird shapeshifter is male instead of female, he is happy with his life instead of wanting to escape it. The transformation is still dependant on a garment, just like the usual swan maiden’s cloak.

I’d suggest that you read Pu Songling’s version from the link I gave, it would give you a much longer and detailed account of the tale (and there are some minor changes in the storyline). The sentence “there is a vacancy among the black-robes” at the begining may even indicate that most ravens actually are human shapeshifters. :)

May 27, 2012
by Akhila
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The Wings, the Sky and the Bird

The Wings, the Sky and the Bird

human bodies are

temples for the human soul

cages for the birds

swanblood, Nonhuman Haiku

I find this haiku beautiful, and at the same time I feel conflicted. I wonder: is it really so? if some bird-people don’t exactly feel trapped in their human body, would it mean to others that they aren’t real birds? I have the experience and self-confidence to know better, to not let others’ words alienate or diminish who and what I am. I know this isn’t easy for everyone though, which is why I do not like making too definite statements about identities.

I used to be different, but I like to think I changed for the best. It’s okay if someone’s experience of being raven or clouded leopard isn’t exactly like mine, it does not mean they aren’t valid experiences. It only means that I don’t relate to them. And vice versa – it isn’t because one’s experience of being bird or feline differs from the norm that their therianthropy is unvalid.

I remember a recent quote from the nonhumanlibrary:

“Jack London writes amazingly vivid descriptions of Nature in all of his books, my favourite being The Call of the Wild.

Which is, naturally, a call that all of us feel, hm?”

Although it probably wasn’t the poster’s intent, such statements, as timid as they may be, end up restricting what it’s like being a “therian” or “otherkin”, excluding a category of individuals altogether.

What about people who identify as domestic animals or others folks who don’t feel such a “call”? Invisible, forgotten. And invariably I wonder “what even IS being wild?”. Is it living remote from human spaces? What about birds who live in urban settings but don’t let people approach them? What about common ravens, who can be extremely shy in the wild and extremely tame right after they get caught? Or is it about a lack of socialization? But animals such as ravens and wolves have social rules of their own.

More and more, I tend to think of “wild” as a human qualificative for everything they want to distinguish themselves from as humans, just like “animality”. It’s not something that exists on its own, it only exists in relation to humanity’s standards, in human heads, to set them appart from other animals or from the animals they can control. Beside, wouldn’t it be a bit appropriative to define oneself as “wild” – I’ve seen such a claim, that animal-folks must be “wilder” than non-therians – when they grew up with a roof above their head and many of the commodities human folks can access?

I think “wild” is merely a bad substitute for something else, like the feeling one does not belong with most human groups, or that one feels out of place in urban spaces, and such as. I understand the homesickness of someplace alien to “civilization” (another anthropocentric and ethnocentric concept). I understand the aches. Supporting a misconception is one thing, essentialism is another. I feel it can be harmful to imply that “all of us [who are therians] experience the Call of the Wild, naturally“. Because it isn’t true.

Animal-folks who are still questioning may be misled to deny who they are because they can’t find any statement that doesn’t erase their own experience. Just like “shifting” used to be mandatory to be a legit “were” in the past, many animal-people seem to have difficulties to depart themselves from an idealized version of what is supposedly “being animal”. By suggesting that this call is an experience common to all animal-folks, it translates as “if you don’t experience it, you’re not an animal-person”. Or alternatively, that you aren’t as much as others, ie. you’re a sub-therian.

I feel conflicted about some things I read from other avian-people, such as the yearning for the sky and flight. On one hand, I feel that I should be able to fly; there’s the phantom wings of course, and some undescribable sensations. On the other hand though, it does not define “bird” to me, and I don’t like it when other people reduce “being a bird” to “flight”. That’s why I’ve said little on the subject; I don’t like putting the emphasis on that part of my raven experiences.

Judgemental people might say that I’m not a bird as much as others, or that it’s because I’m also a feline – a flightless animal – and that it means I’m not a “pure” bird. In reality, there is more to “raven” than just the clouds and wind. This isn’t just about my experience, either. Many birds are primarily ground-dwelling, such a pheasants and other galliformes. Additionally, there are many birds that do not fly at all. From emus to penguins, from cassowaries to rheas, including some grebes and cormorants, these doesn’t even include the plethora of extinct birds and prehistoric relatives that were only or mostly terrestrial, such as terror birds.

Not all bird creatures belong to the sky, in part or in whole. Not all animal-people are “wild” animals nor feel trapped in a human body. It doesn’t make us less *anything* than others. It’s not that I don’t want to hear about the sky, it’s just I also wish there would be more talking about the rest.

First of all what I feel is “avian”
Not like the idealized:
Doe-eyed greeting card doves, perfect blonde cherubim and seraphim on Christmas ornaments, American eagles keeping solemn protective vigil over the interests of rich men in suits, gentle internet gryphons holding tea-parties

But like the bird I know through my pets and my interest in biological history
Ruffled, neurotic, temperamental, beady-eyed and alien, beneath the feathers a reptile running at a warm-blooded pace

crowgoblin, excerpt from “On tengu-ness”, 2004

- Akhila

May 23, 2012
by Akhila
2 Comments

That Which Snatches And That Which Flies

[By Zedjeb (from the Chimera System).]

 

I am harpykin, or harpy otherkin. Or at least that is a nice label for what I am. I use that label to describe myself sense my form is what society would call a harpy any way and I agree with the word, and so the label works nicely enough. The details of my identity place me at a crossroads between being something of a humanoid avian otherkin and a snowy owl therian as far as my experiences and self-identification stand. These feelings and ideas are spurred on by how my innerworld body can change from a humanoid harpy-like creature all the way to just a snowy owl. This sliding between these forms is a natural process in my otherkin identity. Plus, my harpy form could either has wings and arms molded into one, or they are separate with wings on my back and my arms covered in pseudo-wings and talon-tipped hands. My harpy form seems to be my natural and ‘default form’ while my owl form feels much more of a secondary or ‘travel form’ in some sense to me.  I don’t consider these two forms different kintypes, but rather the snowy owl form being part of me being a harpy otherkin.

Human/bird hybrid-like creatures can be found throughout much of the world through stories and folklore. One of the most well known is the harpy hence another reason why I feel works so well. The harpy of earlier Greek mythology were often depicted as “lovely” women with wings or generally beautiful creatures women’s faces and busts but bird bodies. Later on in Greek history and on into the Middle Ages, they began to be depicted as an ugly bird of prey with a head and bust of an old hag. Other very similar humanoid headed and bird-like bodied mythological creatures include the Sirin (not the same as the Siren in Greek mythology), the Gamayun,  and the Alkonost of Russian folklore. Some of the images of a harpy does resemble my image of my self though some do not. One of the biggest things is that regardless of time period, harpies have always been shown to be female, and I am certainly not female. However that seems small compared to other things which seem to match well for a label. Plus some of the modern incarnations sometimes seem a bit close to home. Today, the word harpy sometimes means a more humanoid creature then how it was used in the past.

Sometimes it feels weird being one of the only harpy otherkin really active in the otherkin community from what I see where I watch around. I’ve always heard various theories as to why there are certain kintypes and theriotypes are more common then others, as that topic has always floated around and about at some point.  For harpy otherkin, sometimes I wonder if it isn‘t because the few people who might of identified as a “harpy“ instead turn to and decide to label themselves as an angel, a winged humanoid, or along those lines. Plus, tengu otherkin seem to be around a otherkin community here and there oddly enough though and they are often depicted as humanoid/bird-like (specifically crow-like) beings. So it seems some of it might be from different people picking different words for themselves compared to others even though some might have similar experiences like I do. So perhaps it is not that I am alone by experiences but just not as many people decided they are comfortable with the label I have chosen for myself.

I’ve only actually met one other harpy otherkin with whom I talked in a short lived messaging back and forth, plus I’ve seen a few posts from two other self-identified harpy otherkin on two different forums. So other harpy otherkin are or at least have been around off and on. One thing I noticed though in my conversation with the other harpy otherkin and from one of the old posts on forum, was that each of us had a connection or identification toward a certain species of birds onto our harpy identity. For one of them it was the harpy eagle and the other identified with owls in general, while I identify specifically with the snowy owl. One of those harpy otherkin who had posted on a forum, actually even noted having at least two forms – one an anthropomorphic bird-like creature and another just a large eagle, which really reminded me of my otherkin identity the most. All this of course makes me wonder about the connection with any tengu otherkin even more given they often connect with crows or ravens from what I’ve seen. This makes me wonder strongly if this is a common theme among otherkin who end up calling themselves a harpy or similar. That idea, however, might have to wait as I keep an eye out for other people who label themselves as harpy otherkin.

Personally, I certainly feel “avian” and “bird” first and foremost within my own harpy otherkin identity, but not of a real-life bird species exactly sort. I am a snowy owl in many respects, but there are things added to that. As far as other otherkin go and what kintypes are mostly seen about, I identify with most bird therians I have met much more than I do with most angelikin I have met. My experiences, thoughts, and feeling are much more bird-like than say angel-like compared together. I guess, it makes sense considering even my harpy form is predominantly more bird-like than humanoid-like in appearance and my nature as a harpy is much more grounded in animalistic instinct and the state of my body than the emotional and self experiences of some angelkin I have met. Sense other harpy otherkin seem to be lacking in the otherkin community, the next closest group of nonhuman identifying people are bird therians as far as some similar feelings go. I can’t really identify with how I’ve seen many angelkin describe themselves, but I can much more readily see myself in the words of bird therians. To bring it down and cutting things down to a rather stereotypical baseline – I identify more with the animality of bird therians verses the sense of having a purpose and a sense of duty to a deity or whatnot of some angel otherkin I‘ve met.

Really from what I’ve heard a number of bird therians, not so much different then what they commonly talk about from what I have seen. For me being a “harpy” is not some intangible experience and far off idealized connection. Being a harpy is raw and it surrounds my being. I am a harpy in a human body. Being a harpy, and specially a snowy owl-like harpy doesn’t just influence who I am, it influences what I am and how I deal with it. It is what I am.  Then again, that seems to be the case for many kin from any number of kintypes.

Of course, I can often find myself sympathizing with many otherkin including therians which goes with the territory of finding similarities across any nonhuman identity. I have similar instincts to fly, to preen and clean my feathers that I feel should be there, to grab onto things with my feet rather than my arms, and those are just the more dramatic things. That doesn’t include all the little things which happen more suddenly not to mention just how I feel about myself and what I think I should look like.

In harpy form in our innerworld my wings can either appear on my back with my front arms having a short pseudo-wing over them, or they could appear as synonymous and mingled together with only feather covered and talon tipped hands appearing out from an otherwise great bird wing. My phantom wings always appear on my shoulders and never on arms unless my arms are spread apart and aren’t bent in ways not possible for birds to take. The only feathering I sometimes have on my arms are feelings of my pseudo-wings sometimes but they always come with my actual wings as well. My phantom wings don’t go along with my existing upper limbs. I had always been confused about why my phantom wings almost never appeared in sync with the physical human body’s arms. That was until I read Tsu’s essay “I Just Worked Something Out” which really put a number of things into an interesting perspective for me. Her explanation of phantom limbs being connected but not exactly overlaying due to a difference in anatomy from a wing to a human arm made sense to me about my own phantom limbs.

To me as a harpy in a human body, the human body feels heavy to me. The very bones within this body feel heavy and weighted down. The bones of an owl are lightweight to make flight easier and so does my harpy body in our innerworld. Our physical body is not in reality heavy for what is normal, but compared to my innerworld body, our body certainly feels heavier. I feel grounded in this body not only because this human body is incapable of flight alone. I feel grounded because of this body itself. My limbs can only carry me forward but not upward. No matter how strong our physical arms may or may not be, the strength can not compare to stamina of the muscles of a bird and it makes me feel this odd sense of loss and confinment. There is actually a great amount of strength housed in the muscles that give a bird lift. Its not an effortless thing. Run and climb all I want, I can never fly.

Flight is certainly something that I always miss while at the control of our human body. Being grounded is a worrisome thing for me. Its one thing to choose to stay on the ground, but not having that choice on your own is daunting. Maybe that is part of my bird-like mentality – a grounded bird is a dead bird kind of thinking in the back of my head. That kind of anxiety crops up when I get stressed or scared. I’m short an escape route, I guess I could say. Flight isn’t really about freedom to me. Its about movement and instinct. Instinct calls within me saying I should open my wings and fly upward to get from one place to another, but I have to contend with this physical body. The winds sing to me around this body. Flight isn’t effortless or easy for any bird. Gravity is always pulling downward and it takes a lot of muscle power to not fall to the ground like a stone, but that effort is in the blood for me. Just as Mist Weaver craves running for the pleasure of the ground rushing below her paws and Aquasarius craves swimming through the water with the pressure pushing around him – I crave the sky and flight for the pleasure of being there and doing what is my nature. Its an instinct to do. To exert all I have into that movement.

The human body lacks the dexterity in the feet compared to the much more subtlety of the human hands and arms. For my innerworld body, harpy body, that is reversed. Because my arms are often a part of my wings for my innerworld body which have a more important purpose, my hands are not as nimble as human hands. Whereas for my harpy form my feet which are snowy owl like in their shape are much better at grasping and manipulating. I can’t say as I have experiences of really or always have a feeling of wanting to do human things with my feet or something like that, but I do on occasion try to pick things up off the ground or stop something with my feet. With some things it is possible despite how unequipped the human foot is for things like that. Of course, when I can’t pick it up it annoys me. I think and wonder why human feet can’t be more nibble. I like stopping runaway coins with my feet as a game but its hard to pick them with my feet. Human toes just don’t have that ability.

I certainly also have the instinct to hunt. To swoop down and snatch prey from the ground. Mice and other little animals are what catches my interest the most. The instinct is to reach out with my feet and stop the animal that way  Perhaps that is the owl part of my identity coming through as my harpy identity.

Things of that nature, but there is more to it then that. So much more then that. Being a harpy otherkin goes beyond how I feel sometimes or even beyond how I see myself. That identification is what I am. The whole of what I am and is present in my daily life. I use the word harpy for all that which goes on within me. Something avian but not a real-life bird. Nonhuman. Harpy, for me.

– Zedjeb

May 14, 2012
by Acies
0 comments

The Fall

They fell away into the blue, her scream ringing ceaselessly even as they dropped out of sight through the clouds.

“Move forwards!” He shouts over my shoulder and I obey, shuffling awkwardly towards the door.

“Feet over the edge, hands across your chest!” Comes the final order. My knees swing over the edge of the door and out into nothing.

 

This is the moment I want to savor. This is what I want to remember. This is where I want to be.

 

Sitting on the edge, 14 000 feet of nothing but sky between me and the ground. The vaporous vegetation of the sky billows around us. The wind teases at my legs, snatches at my chest, calls me out into the air.

With the slightest of tilts the instructor heeds the call and we go tumbling into the blue. In that single instant a myriad of emotions run through my body- instinctual fear at the sensation of falling sends adrenaline racing, instantly washed away but nothing but a sense of utter and complete relief- I’m there, where I always look to and where I always yearn to be.

But I’m not there for long. Two humans strapped to eachother have all the aerodynamics of a falling brick so I’ve got fifty or so seconds before the chute is pulled.

Inside me there’s a quiet war underneath the euphoria. Primaries itch along my forearms as my brain tries to deal with missing a huge load of sensory input that it expected, but I’m used enough to that. I want to spread my wings, fan my tail and lift my beak into a gradual recovery from the stoop and float away.

My body tenses as I order it to remember it’s physicality and to refrain from dropping form- the instructor would not appreciate my strange posturing. Almost reluctantly I hold the proper arc, arms bent and held stiff.

When the chute opens there’s no jerk as I expected – human flight is always jerky and rough and sudden, unlike the fluid dance I yearn for- but suddenly we’re out of the stoop and gliding.

This is more like what my heart calls for. Drifting. My hands go up as if for the toggles and he instructor brushes them gently away; he probably assumes I was reaching for the harness as if in fear. So I hang, resisting the urge to hold my wingarms out, and lean into the turns as we swoop through a hole in the clouds.

All too soon we’re back on the ground, bracing for a near vertical landing in a headwind. As soon as my feet touch the grass, reclaimed again by the earth. I look once more skywards and the familiar feeling returns. Yearning.

 

All I want is the wind around me and nothing below my feet.

May 2, 2012
by Solitarybird
2 Comments

Burrow and Fly

Humans weren’t likely to tolerate his eccentricities, more than they already did. He was a strange fellow, who had long decided that since his species was so good at mimicry, perhaps in a past life, he’d mimicked humans well enough to fool his DNA or maybe this was reality’s way of having a laugh at his expense, by forcing him to live life as a human.

Well, he wasn’t going to let that bother him much, although he sorely missed his wings. So he decided to keep playing at being human, out of spite. When he had to be, he could make a fairly convincing human, when he tired of it, he played it up to the level of parody. If he had to wear clothes, why not wear every colour, bright and bold? If he had to have good manners, why not pick and choose a new set of manners to abide by each day? No, no, that wasn’t rude, why it’s a compliment in some countries~! If he had to have hair, then why not dye it and style it as he pleases, sometimes up, sometimes down, sometimes flat, sometimes spiked?

He didn’t expect humans to want to have anything to do with him. And quite frankly, even if he found them amusing for a day or two, he never wanted very much to do with other humans himself.

It was all well and good, until one day, he decided to pop into a library. To this day, he’s not quite sure what dragged him there (maybe it was fate?), as it wasn’t a place he normally went, for he was considered too loud and boisterous for such places. He peered around curiously, taking an interest in the colourful books on display. He could tell his current spiked-up do was distracting some of the people reading at the table, as they put down their books to stare in mixtures of surprise and fascination.

He reacted as he always did, taking a theatrical bow and tipping his non-existant hat.

They soon returned to their reading, no doubt remembering it was impolite to stare. He smiled and turned around, wondering how long it would take before he’d be kicked out for looking too wild. He’s done a good job of keeping quiet for now, but it wouldn’t be long before he’d remember a song or catch an interesting snippet of conversation from the other readers that he’d like the sound of and feel the need to test it on his tongue, maybe in different voices— he can’t help it, really, some words just flow so nicely, he can’t help repeating them, over and over. Maybe with a different intonation, expressions to match— he must look mad to onlookers, when he does it loud enough for others to hear.

Oh, but instead of anyone wanting to chase him out, the eyes he felt from behind the front desk, only looked interested. A bit shy, judging by how they peeked over a book. The rest of the body, he couldn’t really see, as the woman curled tight, drawing her limbs in.

“Hello!” he smiled.

“… hi.”

“I was just going to have a look, so if you think I ought to leave, I understand—”

“No, that’s alright!” she brought down the book, looking more surprised than he was about her little outburst.

“… sure.”

She tried to keep quiet, then, but she did say something about liking how different he looked.

He had a look around and found some books to read, even if no one else seemed willing to sit anywhere near him. He thought it made things easier, like he had his own little barrier to keep uninteresting people away. More room for his wings to stretch!

The only person who ever came anywhere near him, on this and the following visits, and tried to helped him understand how the books were organized was the odd librarian who complimented him.

It started out simply, but he was surprised to find he never got bored of or felt stifled by her company with the passing of days. She never judged him when they were alone, although she did try to keep him under control when he got too noisy in the library. But that was her job, so he never held it against her. At first, he thought that maybe she, too, was putting on an act for the humans.

After all, when they were alone, he was free to be himself. He never felt quite this free in the prescence of anyone but other birds and hard as it was to believe, he really was a social creature, even if human society wasn’t one he wanted anything to do with. It was different from what he was used to, so much so, it was almost magical.

But, he was surprised to discover that she was just as quiet outside of the library as she was in it. Very timid. Always wrapped up in plain, subdued shades (she was very fond of scarves, he noticed, and had a habit of wrapping them high enough to hide her mouth and nose when it was even mildly chilly). He liked to feel the breeze against his back and the wings he could’ve sworn he still had, but she avoided the cold and holed herself up. He didn’t mind it much when she snuggled up against him for warmth.

He loved life and he didn’t mind having a human body much. He never felt badly about his body, even if it wasn’t quite right, except when he stood on a high place or on days when the wind blew so hard he could hear nothing else, when he almost felt like he was being lifted off his feet and if the wings he had were only real enough to support him, he’d spread them out and take flight. Only then, was he filled with the most unbearable heartache and longing.

Only then.

Which is a bit masochistic, when he also felt happiest in high places, so he sought them out, knowing that no sooner would he be overwhelmed with joy at the sight, than be crushed by the realization that he could not take wing.

Now, he could add grimly a new competitor to that painful ache for the best-worst he’s ever felt in a single moment, the times when she drew close and he could only draw thin arms around her in an insufficient hug, knowing he could never wrap her in the stronger, warmer and more complete embrace of his wings.

One day, he found out, entirely by accident, that she wore a wig. He was a bit confused, but he didn’t question her. She looked somewhat embarrassed, but he was hardly one to judge people by their appearances.

“You’re not ill, I hope?”
“No… don’t worry.”

She didn’t sound like she was lying, so he smiled in relief; maybe it was just genetics, he thought. “Right, right, ‘don’t worry.’ Won’t worry!”

She put the wig back on. “Do you think I’m ugly?”

“Er.”
Odd question to ask someone who dressed like a carnival, but he certainly didn’t think so: “of course not! It’s a good look on you. Honest! I’m always honest.”

She smiled, although she still looked a bit uncertain.

The next time she saw him, he decided to shave his hair, which was something he’d never done before. Hair was a sad compensation for his missing feathers and wasn’t spread quite as nicely, nor was it as varied, but he could always colour it and style it different ways. Blow-dry it for a cute, fluffy, downy hatchling look, spike it high for a cockatiel look (he could use blush to finish off the look!). He had a lot of fun with it, so shaving it all off was never something he ever thought of doing.

He couldn’t handle leaving it completely bare, so he decided to stick some feathers to his head.

Now, she never reacted badly to the dramatic ways his appearance changed from meeting to meeting… until now.

When he walked in with his shaved, feathered head, she stared at him in shock and hid behind her earthy brown scarf like she’d seen some terrible monster. He had to look behind him to make sure there wasn’t some axe murderer or a burglar with a gun standing behind him, politely waiting for him to walk through the door so they’d be trapped in her apartment.

Nothing but air.

He turned back to look at her. He couldn’t understand why she looked so terrified, so he shut the door. He thought (perhaps a bit too hopefully) that she wouldn’t be offended, because he mimicked everyone and never meant any harm by it. “… well, I thought that since you wore the bald look so nicely, I’d try it too. But I quickly realized I couldn’t go without a bit of fluff on top, so I thought the feathers would be a good idea. Oh– are you allergic? Your eyes are tearing up! Tell me, tell me, what’s wrong?”

She caught the corners of the scarf, pulling it higher up over her face, trying to hide her tears, elbows digging it into her sides as she tried to make herself as small as possible.

“I knew it… I knew…”

She didn’t talk very much, so he made a point of paying very close attention to anything she said, since it had to be important. But she didn’t continue. “You knew, you knew what?”

“A bird! You’re a bird.”

He felt his shoulders tense up and his wings flap anxiously. His eyes darted to the window and he briefly contemplated diving out of it. But he couldn’t fly, he knew he couldn’t, and her apartment was on the second floor. Still, he felt exposed and like he should be the one hiding.

“And if I am?” he asked, a bit defensively.

Was that it? Was that all the weirdness she could take? Was this going to cost him her company…?

“I’m an earthworm. I’ve been scared of birds all my life. My grandmother’s birds even nipped my finger when I was a child!”

Oh.

Fate really did love tugging on his tail feathers, didn’t it? First, by having him reborn as a strange and noisy earth-bound human, then by drawing him to some quiet library where he would meet and fall in love with the only other person he knew who was not what she seemed to be. And shehad to be what his past self would be less inclined to taking out to dinner than to have for dinner. Was that what drew him to her, some sort of leftover hunting instincts that told him she was food? No, no, it couldn’t have been.

“… wonder if that’s why we’ve been given the wrong bodies!” he suggested with a grin, trying to lighten the mood. “If you knew right from the start, you wouldn’t have come anywhere near me, and maybe burrowed into one of your books instead of peeking over it, right?”

She finally seemed to calm down, wiping the tears from her eyes.

He came closer, putting an arm around her shoulders and nuzzling her.

“Do you really think so?” she asked.

‘Do you really think so?’ Sure! Why not? It’s a lot nicer than thinking we’re being punished for something. And you know I’d never hurt you… never did before and don’t plan on starting.”

Knowing that to be true, she pressed closer to him, closing her eyes and breathing in his scent, feeling safe and secure again, worries easily fading away.

“… m-maybe you’re right. Maybe that’s the reason why.”

“Right, right ‘maybe that’s the reason why.’ ‘Maybe that’s the reason why!’ I think so too, never been a romantic, ever, never, never-ever, but I like that! That’s the reason why, definitely. Oh, and one more thing,” he leaned forward to whisper cheerily into her ear. “I’m a parrot, dear! We’re herbivores. Never had a taste for worms, in this life or the one before it. If I’m lucky, I never will! Would you pass the cashews, dear?”

April 30, 2012
by Tsu
2 Comments

Birdtistic

Birdtistic

I am autistic.

I am bird.

Society tries to say this is two things. Often, I think, it is one. Where do the lines begin and the lines end, between bird-flight and autism-flap, between bird-panic and autistic-meltdown, between bird-song-of-joy and autistic-babbling?

I don’t know. I don’t want to draw lines. I am bird and I am autistic. I can’t separate these things.

Bird is movement. I have said this in previous writings about bird. Bird is movement, and rhythm, wind under wings, scooping motion pulling you forward through the sky, repeating, one-two, one-two. upstroke. downstroke. Changing speed, when the wind around you changes. I don’t have wind, I don’t have wings, so I use music, I use rocking in my seat, I use the movement of a car, I use a word or a song repeated in my head. Sometimes I use all of these together, rocking as the car moves as the music sings as the heart swells in my ribs as I make mouth movements to the song, as I sing it over over over in my head, one-two, one-two, now faster now slower now falling now rising, up up up up d o w n.

I can’t fly, so this is my flying.

Movement and rhythm, these things are soothing, familiar. We rock a baby in a cradle and the autistic person rocks and flaps and the bird soars on the wind, all the same movements, all the same rhythm. It is soothing, familiar, for a bird to fly: I don’t doubt this. It is soothing to run, to feel the ground under your feet, thump, thump, one, two, or to listen to a horse running, hooves on the road, onetwo, threefour, onetwo, threefour. If this is soothing to our ears, if a horse or a dog who are left alone will run for the joy of running, then I think that flying must be comforting, to birds. It must be the joy of coming home, to a familiar movement, the upstroke, the downstroke.

(Autistic people are criticised for rocking, for flapping. For wanting this familiar movement. For wanting to fly. For wanting to feel rhythm. For understanding the joy of rhythm, perhaps more than most humans, who only like it in very particular situations. Music. Dance. Poetry. Listening to the ocean drum on the shore. Imagine if every time you moved, you moved with dance and felt the pleasure of rhythm. That is an animal’s life, an autistic person’s life. Like animals, we dance all the time, we run, we fly.

And sometimes, we run, we fly, because we are animals. Because the running-need the flying-need the dancing-need is inside us, the call of our ancestors who are not our ancestors who are our ancestors more than science can show.)

Humans make noise only when it is expected. Isn’t it strange? When a human makes noise suddenly, it is treated as a mental illness. Unless it is singing or humming, and even then, this is only okay in particular places. You can’t sing if you are waiting in line at the bank. But birds sing constantly. Birds sing to find mates, they sing to say “here’s food”, they sing to say “I am here”. And sometimes, it seems, they sing just because they wish to sing. They sing because singing feels good, like a dog barks when she is bored, like a cat walks around the house meowing because he has eaten catnip and he wants to make sound. There is not always a reason. It is just good to make noise. Birds know this. Autistic people know this. It is okay to make sound.

I make sound for the joy of it. I run because the rhythm comforts me. I imagine wind under me, pushing me forward. I imagine my wings beating heavy when I flap my arms.

I am autistic.

I am bird.

They are not very far apart.